MeNYouErnestIt wasn’t right, Ernest shooting himself. Not a man like that who had inspired a ragged little hill kid to reach for heights of life and glory. Ernest knew how to live; he lived life writ large—and that was how I intended to live.

I was rodeoing the weekend in Sedro Woolley, Washington, riding bareback broncs, when I heard the news. I was 20-years-old with red chaps and a peacock feather stuck in my hat. My girlfriend Maureen and her folks were up from Seattle to watch me ride. I came out of the chute on a spotted cayuse, shoulder spurring him the length of the arena until he cut a sunfish to the left and dumped me unceremoniously on my… Well, he dumped me.

But that wasn’t nearly the shock I suffered the next morning when I came down from the little room I rented for the rodeo in a private home in Sedro. The elderly little lady who owned the house and I had become friends in that short time. She knew I wanted to be a writer—just like Ernest Hemingway. She showed me the headlines: Ernest Hemingway Commits Suicide in Idaho.

My Aunt Ellen had given me a box of books when I was about seven or eight; among them was Ernest’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. I was hooked. I mean, the guy not only wrote wonderful books, he also adventured the world going on safaris in Africa, running with the bulls in Spain, trekking to wars, living in Paris, meeting beautiful women…

Like Ernest, I assured my Mom, “I’m not wasting my life in cotton fields. I’m going to live many lives—and write about it.”

And here Ernest—at what, 62 years old?—had sneaked down into his basement and shot himself with a 12-gauge.

I was so stunned that I bucked off again in the arena that afternoon. Got up out of the dirt, dusted myself off, waved at Maureen in the stands, and laughed.

Me and you, Ernest. I’m taking up where you left off.

 

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